Our ancestors didn’t have in-home workout regimens. They had work.

I’ve been thinking lately about how soft our ancestors would have thought us. Not those who’ve contracted the virus and suffered or those who’ve lost jobs and are desperate. But those who are merely being inconvenienced by a disruption in what they would think were absurdly cushy lives.

They had fields to clear and till and plant and water and weed and harvest. They had animals to hunt or buy and shepherd and birth and feed and slaughter. They had meat to butcher and clean and slice and salt and dry and store. They had wells to dig and water to carry. They had horses to feed and house which helped them carry or drag vital objects too heavy for them to carry.

They had work, nothing but labor, for as long as they were alive, in order to survive. That’s how they kept their slim figures and six-pack abs and put on “the gun show.”

I type. I’m sitting here in my chair in the living room of my house. Somebody else kills and harvests and packages and preserves my food until I buy it. I bring it home in a powered vehicle and place it in a box cooled to 37\u00b0 by electricity. The entire extent of my labor consists of placing the packaged food in the vehicle and taking it out again when I arrive home.

My work isn’t labor. I think. I type. I make a phone call. I talk. I listen. I type.

You may be somewhat the same. Only the dwindling numbers of family farmers and factory workers and migrant field pickers and stockers a few others really understand physical labor as a job anymore.

What happened to us? Automation. Migration overseas of factories. Farming out of dirty work to recent immigrants. Many fewer of us perform manual labor. So, we do not endure the exertion of generations prior in order to survive.

We need leisure time to stay in shape. Our forebears would not have believed it. When we could be resting, we exert ourselves. We watch other people perform choreographed movements and lift blocks of iron and we follow in pattern. The most active of us do this for an hour or so a day. Then we go back to talking and typing and reading and typing and riding in our mechanized wheeled containers back home.

And now that a plague has befallen our world, we don’t even leave home. We watch moving pictures of people we don’t know performing movements and follow along.

My fifth great grandparents on my mother’s side, Martin and Anna Dreisbach, came to this country from Raumland, Germany in 1751. They also did not have in-home workout regimens.

Martin and Anna sailed from Rotterdam with their three small children on the ship “Queen of Denmark” on July 8, 1751 and arrived in Philadelphia nearly three months later on Oct. 4. By 1755, they had moved to Cocalico Twp. and bought 100 acres where Martin was a blacksmith and had a grist and sawmill. Their oldest son died suddenly of causes now unknown.

Eventually, Martin sold the farm and moved in 1773 to what was then the frontier about 5 miles east Mifflinburg in Union County. Three years later in the year of the American Revolution, the Dreisbachs were forced to flee back to Berks County after an attack by native Americans. They soon returned, but several more times had to return to the more settled southeast before finally remaining in their new home in 1781.

Their house still stands, in a still pristine area surrounded only by trees and farmland. I’ve been there. It is now wrapped in vinyl siding. But 25 years ago, the renter allowed us to climb the attic steps and I saw the immense beams that compose the A frame that has stood a quarter of a millennium. I can only imagine the wiry strength and tenacity of the people who erected it.

The Dreisbachs donated land next door for what became the Dreisbach Church. Anna was buried there in 1789, Martin in 1799 at the age of 81. Their graves are there in the church cemetery, set apart on a crest, inscribed in German.

During these past six weeks, I’ve not been able to play in either of my two twice-weekly basketball games for obvious reasons. My wife Anna cannot go to her LA Fitness club. We’ve both unearthed our workout videos, mine a pack of 10-year-old P90X discs recorded in 2004, hers an ancient Kathy Smith’s Fat-Burning Workout from 1988. I never really stopped doing a couple of my discs, featuring the somehow simultaneously annoying and endearing Tony Horton.

The videos are ever more dated, wrapped in pretense and fabrication, production sets loaded up in the slate blues and grays and carefully smudged windows and mirrors of early-aughts industrial chic (P90X), and the even more hilarious plastic ferns and Easter pastels of the late ‘80s (Kathy Smith). We don’t care. Anna loves her Kathy Smith. I love my Tony Horton. Exercise makes you feel good, no matter whether it accomplishes any productive purpose.

We live on land in Chester County in which the remains of pioneers’ first settlements still are in evidence. The wall what once was their stone barn stands next to our driveway. Our neighbors’ house was built in 1760. It has a 6-foot-high doorframe from the added-on kitchen into the living room where the massive fireplace is equipped with the hook from which to hang a meal pot.

Lately, I’ve attempted to imagine what Anna and Martin Dreisbach would have made of my workout discs. Maybe plates on which to serve salted dried beef.


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